The Tales of series is a Japanese role-playing franchise that began in 1995 with its first entry called Tales of Phantasia on the Nintendo Famicom. Although the West didn’t see a port of the original game until 2006 on the Game Boy Advance. The series began to hit its stride when Tales of Symphonia was finally released on the Gamecube in 2004, followed by both Tales of Legendia, and Abyss on the PlayStation 2 in 2006.
During this time, fans of series had to almost beg Namco-Bandai for more mainline Tales titles to be released in the West, while the Final Fantasy series seemed to be hitting every major platform with re-releases, remasters, spin-offs and sequels. Western fans of JRPGs wanted something different, and the Tales series seemed to be the answer. However, it took a while for Namco-Bandai to realize there was a market for the series outside of Japan.
Thankfully, this all changed with the release of Tales of Vesperia, Tales of Graces, and Xillia. These titles led the charge on PlayStation 3, with more mainline games and remasters showing up across a bevy of platforms soon after. If you’re a JRPG fan (or have yet to try another Japanese RPG outside of the Final Fantasy series), here are 15 reasons why the Tales series should be the true king of the genre.
15 Better Protagonists
Many fans argue that there hasn’t been a memorable and well developed Final Fantasy lead since Cloud Strife in Final Fantasy VII. That being said, some fans argue Noctis (from FFXV is a return to form for the series). However, even Noctis wasn’t as well developed as he should have been, he went from a slightly spoiled prince to an almost god-like hero in a very short space of time.
In contrast, Luke from Tales of The Abyss was another spoiled and even unlikeable character. Over the course of the game’s story arc, he grew from a selfish, arrogant, and petulant boy, to a repentant, remorseful warrior that eventually developed into a great hero. Yuri Lowell from Tales Of Vesperia is another unique hero from the series, he’s a confident and easy going character that isn’t afraid to put to an end to an antagonists life if he feels they deserve it.
14 The Combat System
When Hajime Tabata took over the director's duties from Tetsuya Nomura, he wanted Final Fantasy XV to appeal to a broader audience, especially in the west. One of the ways he did this was to drop the turn-based combat and use a more accessible real-time combat system. The idea worked well, and the game used a cinematic and easy to pick up hack and slash combat mechanic that was implemented well when the camera played ball.
The Tales series has always used an equally accessible but deep real-time battle system since the release of its first title Phantasia — the trademark “Linear Motion Battle System,” which has evolved with every entry since. Players are able to assign attacks and magic known as Artes to any of the four buttons on the pad, allowing different attacks and spells to be linked together with combinations. More than 20 years on, it is still one of the best combat systems in all Japanese RPGs.
13 Co-Op Gameplay
Another fantastic feature not yet seen in a Final Fantasy game is the Tales series drop-in and drop-out co-op battle mode. Although the main bulk of the game, such as the story, interactions, and overworld are controlled the by the main player, the game’s combat system allows for up to four players to join the fun and perform Linked Artes.
It’s a great way to introduce new gamers (who are unfamiliar with the Tales series) to the game, and Japanese RPGs in general. The accessible beat-em-up style gameplay is an inviting way to draw new players into the series, and was definitely a missed opportunity in Final Fantasy XV given the nature of the game's combat.
12 Better Villains
Final Fantasy has had its share of great and iconic villains. However, even these iconic FF antagonists lack some character development. Kefka is simply psychotic, Sephiroth is a victim of a genetic experiment – and fans still can’t agree to this day on if he really is the true villain of Final Fantasy VII. Finally, Final Fantasy XV’s Ardyn was a brilliantly performed and magnetic villain, but he lacked any real story arc until the game’s final chapter.
The most memorable villains in the Tales series have come in many forms but they’re almost always well developed with strong motivations and goals. The primary antagonist from Tales of The Abyss, known as Van Gant is a compelling and charismatic villain, with a fascinating and distorted sense of morality. Even Dhaos, the first true antagonist from Tales of Phantasia was a complex villain with a completely justified motivation in attempting to destroy the heroes world.
11 Memorable Supporting Cast
Outwardly, many of the Tales supporting characters follow a lot of the typical anime tropes you would find in a Japanese RPG, but almost all of these characters have their own story to tell and are every bit as important as the main protagonists. Helping each instalment feel more like an ensemble piece, rather than a story centred around a “chosen one” saving the world from imminent doom.
The Tales series' "Skits" are a simple yet clever means of giving the characters more personality, and ways of expressing their sense of humor, concerns, and serving as a great way to flesh out the characters relationships and interactions. The cut-out anime style Skits have become a staple of the series since Tales of Eternia, often providing new titles, and directly affecting the relationships between the companions.
10 Isn’t Pressured Into Breaking New Ground With Graphics
One area where the Final Fantasy series excels, is its cinematic visuals. Every instalment has broken new ground in terms of visuals, sometimes pushing its chosen hardware way beyond its limits. However, this pressure to create such a visual treat for the eyes seems to come at a cost. Critics have accused the series of “putting all its eggs in one basket” at the expense of characters and narrative. Additionally, each new entry into the mainline series costs the studio millions to make. FFXV cost so much to make that it would have spelled disaster for Square-Enix had it failed.
The Tales series doesn’t suffer with this kind of pressure, yet the games still manage to look visually more impressive with each entry. It's true that Tales doesn’t come close to the cinematic scope of the mainline FF games, but it is still a beautiful series in its own right, and Namco-Bandai doesn’t feel under financial pressure to meet expectations. Resulting in fans getting more frequent entries, and giving developers to more time to focus on what’s important to an RPG.
9 Evolving Yet Classic Formula
For years the developers of the Final Fantasy series have tried to revamp each of its core titles, and while some of the changes have been welcomed by fans, there have been times where the drastic changes to the series formula have been met with a frosty reception from the fans too.
The Tales series has managed to remain consistent in each entry, but at the same time, the developers have also evolved the series to new heights. Overworld maps have long been a favorite with fans of Japanese RPGs, and are still a prominent feature in the Tales series. Although the overworld has seen huge improvements in Berseria, they still retain the same feeling of excitement when you spot a town or a village in the distance. Additionally, the Tales combat system has stayed true to the formula the series is renowned for, but is forever evolving with various upgrades and improvements – finding the right balance between classic gameplay and modernized mechanics.
Customization is something that has always been lacking in the Final Fantasy series. Although you can upgrade a character's weapons and equipment, and until recently the changes offered nothing more than an increase in stats or the occasional weapon swap. The Tales series, however, offers far more flexibility when it comes to customizing your characters.
A player is able to assign their Artes to specific buttons providing near endless combination options. Additionally, the series’ recurring "Title" system can be assigned to each character providing unique special effects and abilities. Weapons and items can be crafted through the use of customization materials, and even a character's appearance can be changed through special outfits and clothing.
7 Better Female Leads
The Final Fantasy series hasn’t had the best track record when it comes to female protagonists. The mostly negative reception to FFXIII’s lead character Lightning is a strong example of this, with critics not being too fond of her cold, unlikeable and underdeveloped personality. FFXV’s Lunafreya was well received, but there was no option to play as her, or enough time spent with her character to see her develop in the context of the story.
Xillia’s Milla Maxwell was a well-received character who, like Lightning, appeared cold upon her introduction, but as the story progressed the player watched her deal with the loss of her powers as well as her newfound appreciation for life and companionship. Berseria’s Velvet is initially a character driven by a hatred for those who massacred her loved ones, but slowly regains the kindness of her former life – proving that both female leads are far more organically developed than any of the recent outings from the Final Fantasy series.
6 Timeless Visual Style
One of the most distinguishing features of the Tales series is its manga and anime-like art style, using famed art designers like Kosuke Fujishima, Mutsumi Inomata, Kazuto Nakazawa to name a few. The art style for each of the game's characters and world ranged from stylized and cel-shaded looks like those found in Tales of Vesperia or Tales of Symphonia to a more realistic anime style like those found in Xillia.
The distinctive style has been associated with the series since Phantasia and the games brilliantly produced and traditional anime cutscenes have and always will be the preferred method for the series' fans as proved by the less popular use of CGI in the Nintendo DS version of Tales of Hearts.
5 Character-Driven Stories
The focus on characterization has been discussed here in regards to the protagonists, the antagonists, and the supporting casts, but it's that focus where these characters motivations which takes the Tales series beyond a hero’s quest to save the world from a cataclysmic evil.
The games deal with issues and themes that are relevant to many of the world's current events, as well as issues which are prevalent in today’s society. A very prominent narrative theme of the Tales series is the issue of racial divides and how some of the characters coexist with each other in the group. Similarly, the theme of religion and faith is dealt with during the series. These issues, and how the companions interact with each other to overcome them, is a driving force behind the series' great characterization.
4 Doesn’t Pander To Western Audiences
On paper, the Tales series should appeal to Western audiences on the basis of its battle system alone. The encounters are swift, fast-paced, and over within a relatively short time, making the series easy to pick up and play for just about anyone. Unfortunately, the series hasn’t seen the same amount of success in the West as the Final Fantasy series, despite being considered the third most successful RPG series in Japan.
However, this has never stopped the Tales series from sticking to the traditions that has made series so endearing to its fans. The Tales series has often been accused of being cliché and being "typical" of Japanese RPG’s but in an interview with Gamesuta series’ producer, Hideo Baba, hit back by saying it’s possible that Western gamers who didn’t grow up around Japanese culture wouldn’t see the variety in the genre. It’s this persistence to keep producing what they love that makes the series so endearing to Tales fans.
3 Complete Stories
As good as FFXV is, many of the game's critics and fans have accused the story of feeling incomplete. The fact that Square-Enix is still releasing back stories for the supporting cast via downloadable content have done nothing to alleviate this feeling.
Previous entries have seen issues with the game's narrative. FFXII lost its director, and as a result, the game’s politically intriguing plot didn’t conclude the way it should have. FFXIII has been accused of artificially adding a narrative via the means of unlocking and reading the game’s Datalogs. Even franchise favorite FFVII, is accused of having a convoluted narrative.
The Tales “mothership titles” have characters that are designed around the game’s narrative rather than the other way around, which results in more focused storylines. This ensures that the fans get a narrative that is not only cohesive, easy to understand but one that develops more naturally from beginning to end.
2 The Lack Of Development Issues
It’s no secret that many of the Final Fantasy games have suffered problematic developmental cycles. FFXV is an obvious example of this, as the game went through a ten-year developmental process where it was rebranded, had a change in director, and even arrived a generation late. FFXII lost Yasumi Matsuno midway through development, with stress being cited as the main reason for him voluntarily bowing out of producing and directing duties.
The Tales hasn’t suffered anywhere near the same developmental disasters the Final Fantasy series has, and their games have never taken a decade to release what many consider an unfinished product. Only Tales of Zestiria encountered difficulties during its developmental stages, but even then fans were still given a finished and cohesive product without huge delays.
1 Tales Does Better Sequels
The Final Fantasy series doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to sequels, with many fans wishing that Final Fantasy X-2 never existed and the expanded universe of FFVII becoming more complicated and messy as a result of “milking” Square-Enix’s most lucrative “cash cow.” The FFXIII trilogy suffered varying degrees of quality resulting in what many fans to consider it the worst mainline Final Fantasy ever released.
With the exception of Tales Of Symphonia: Dawn of The New World which was considered poor in comparison to its predecessor, the Tales series has a better track record when it comes to sequels and its connecting universes. Xillia-2 was a solid follow up to an already great entry in the Tales series. Symphonia was connected to Phantasia, and Berseria was based in the same world as Zestiria, but each entry functioned perfectly without any prior knowledge of a previous entry, resulting in far stronger stories as a result.